Expired Medicine — what are the risks? | by Ritesh Bawri | Nov, 2021

Ritesh Bawri

Medicines expire. If you are the particular kinds, you would probably check the expiration each time before you took medicines. Others, perhaps not so much. Like all products, though, there is a shelf life for medication. Actually, there is a shelf life and expiration date, and the two are not the same. Let us find out more.

Medicines are formulated using a combination of chemicals. The goal of the medicine is to release the chemical load into your body to achieve a specific outcome, reduce your headache, for example. To do this, the chemical load has to release in a very specific way over a specific duration.

Therefore, any change in the manner in which the chemicals are released could not just prevent the outcome but also cause you harm. In the case of an antibiotic, the expiration of medicine could prevent your body from overcoming the bacterial infection. Therefore, the chemicals and their combinations are rigorously tested before being released for stability.

From the time they are manufactured to when consumed, medicines also undergo transportation and storage, often over thousands of miles and several months. Shelf life, then, is the ability of the medicine to retain its efficacy, taking into account how it will be handled before being consumed. Expiration is the date beyond which it is unsafe to be used. The shelf life of medicine and the expiry could be different.

Some scientists argue that it is possible to take medicines beyond the date of expiry with proper storage and handling. For example, your kitchen or bathroom may not be the ideal location for storage but kept in an industrial warehouse with adequate protection, medicines may not spoil, or so the argument goes.

Personally, I am loathe to take medicines. I have increasingly found herbal or natural alternatives to most of my needs, especially painkillers. Fortunately, I have not required antibiotics in a long time, but if I do, medicines expiring soon will not be on the list of things to take.

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